Several years ago, I wrote a post titled Why VCs Should Recycle Their Management Fees.
From the start of Foundry Group in 2007, we have felt strongly about this. We feel that if an LP gives us a $1 to invest, we should invest at least that $1, not $0.85 (the average fee load over a decade for a typical VC fund is 15%.) Our goal for each fund is actually to invest closer to 110%, which means if an LP gives us a $1 to invest, we are actually investing $1.10.
Our long-time friends and LPs at Greenspring recently wrote a great post titled Creating GP-LP Alignment: Why Terms Matter. The post specifically discussed three items: Management Fees, Recycling, and Carried Interest.
The entire post is worth reading, but I especially liked their section on Recycling which includes a handy chart showing that recycling means that you only need to generate a 3.65x gross multiple to achieve a 3.00x net multiple to your LPs, vs. a 4.10x gross multiple if you don’t recycle. The section from their post follows:
In addition to management fees, the process of reinvesting realized proceeds into new investments, or recycling, can also meaningfully impact net returns and alignment. While management fees cut into the dollars available for investment, recycling can have the opposite effect, increasing the investable pool of capital while offsetting a proportion of management fees. To illustrate this point, we revisit our $100 million fund example, and in this case show how recycling $15 million, equivalent to the fund’s management fee, positively impacts the fund.
The fund that chooses to recycle fees requires a 3.65x gross multiple to achieve a 3.00x net multiple, whereas the fund that does not recycle proceeds to offset management fees requires a 4.10x gross multiple to achieve a 3.00x target net multiple. As long as re-invested capital is prudently deployed into opportunities capable of generating strong results, recycling is an impactful way for GPs to increase net returns, which ultimately benefits investors and themselves.
Now, imagine if you recycled 110%. Your investable capital would be $110m. You now require a 3.45x gross multiple to achieve a 3.00x multiple. Plus, as a bonus, you get $56m of carry (vs. $50m of carry in the case where you don’t recycle proceeds.)
Many fund agreements, including ours, require us to pay back all fees and expenses before taking carried interest. We think this is another element of GP-LP alignment and have supported this from our first fund. As a result, if you recycle at least 100%, it is more realistic to think of your management fee as a risk-free, interest-free loan against future carried interest, instead of additional compensation.
As a result, our goal is to generate as much of a return on the dollars invested, and get as many dollars invested as we can in each fund. Recycling allows us to do this and brings the gross and net returns closer together, reducing the spread to the carried interest from profits on investments.
While many GPs focus on their gross numbers, in the end the only numbers that really matter to LPs over time are the net multiples.
That’s worth remembering.
The idea of product/market fit has been around for a long time. And, while founder/market fit is a newer concept, it turns out to be just as important.
Recently, Beezer Clarkson at Saphirre Ventures wrote a post titled Raising A Fund? 9 Questions That Help Get You To GP/LP Fit. If you are a GP raising a fund, you should go read this post right now. In it, Beezer goes through, in depth, the top questions she recommends you ask an LP to determine GP/LP fit.
Seriously, go read Beezer’s post.
There’s an interesting graph in the post, which shows that a typical LP is going to add less than five new managers a year to their portfolio (and, on average, only two or three.) While an LP takes a lot of meetings, they don’t do a lot of investments.
GPs – does that sound familiar?
On my run today I was thinking about GP – LP interactions. This line of thought was prompted by a contrast between two interactions, or rather one interaction and one non-interaction, that I’ve had in the past few days.
The interaction was I had with one of my LPs over the last 24 hours. They emailed asking for a reference on someone who indicated they knew me and had invested with me. I didn’t know the person, but knew a few people who did, and quickly sent emails getting addition info for my LP. With a small amount of effort I was able to generate some useful feedback, including triangulating on the deal he was suggesting we were investors in together (it was a true statement prospectively as it’s something I’m working on.) I was also able to get some specific one degree of separation feedback for my LP.
I contrasted that with the non-interaction that I’d recently had. I’m an investor in about 30 VC funds (so, in addition to being a GP in my funds, I’m an LP in a bunch of other funds.) I’m a very easy LP – I basically try to be available for the GP whenever they want, be supportive, make my capital calls on time, and be low maintenance. I invest in VC funds for several reasons, including my belief that long term it’s a good investment (and my overall performance across this category of investment bears this out.)
In the case of the non-interaction, I made an intro between an entrepreneur and the GP. I do this sparingly (per my Don’t Ask For A Referral If I Say No policy) – I’ll only do this if I think the fit is a good one. I think most of the people I’ve invested in and work with know this, but who knows. Anyway, in this case I haven’t heard anything back from the GP. When I thought about this, I realized there were several GPs I’ve invested in that are terrible at responding to me. Now, this might just be me, and not their LPs in general, but my guess is that the dynamic is a typical one given my knowledge of their individual tempo and work patterns.
I realized as I was thinking about this that I have very little respect for this type of behavior. I think you should treat your investors with the upmost respect, be extremely responsive to them, and to go out of your way to try to be helpful when they interact with you. When I reflect on the interactions I’ve had with my investors over the last 25 years, I always tried hard to be responsive, even if we had a disagreement, difficult conversation, or difference of opinion.
I tried to come up with a rationale for blowing off an LP. None of the obvious ones – I’m too busy, it’s not a priority, it’s not what I’m paid to do, I’m not interested – made any sense. And I couldn’t come up with any non-obvious ones that did either.
In every GP / LP relationship I’ve ever been involved in, there comes a moment in time when the GP needs something from the LP. This is true at the beginning of the relationship when the GP is asking the LP for an investment. It seems incredibly short sided to me for GPs to forget that they will once again need something from the LP and, instead of being responsive through the life of the relationship, only pay attention when the GP needs something.